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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Why did Enkidu want to kill Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and why was Gilgamesh reluctant?

Quick answer:

The epic is the story of a rebellious young king who is humbled by his dealings with the gods, and learns to accept death. It starts with the birth of Gilgamesh and continues through his reign as king of Uruk. The gods are afraid that a mortal will become too powerful, they create a wild man named Enkidu in order to test Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh become best friends almost instantly, however Enkidu eventually succumbs to his human nature and falls in love with a priestess named Shamhat.

Expert Answers

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Humbaba (Akkadian spelling, Huwawa, Sumerian) is a monster appointed by the weather god Enlil to guard the Forest of Cedars. In Tablet I he is described by Enkidu as:

 ''When he roars it is like the torrent of the storm, his breath is like fire, and his jaws are death itself. He guards the cedars so well that when the wild heifer stirs in the forest, though she is sixty leagues distant, he hears her"

 In Tablet II:

 "Humbaba’s roar is a flood, his mouth is death and his breath is fire! He can hear a hundred leagues away any [rustling?] in his forest! Who would go down into his forest!"

 Essentially, the character of Humbaba is that of an inimical force of nature, personified as a terrifying giant combining the characteristics of beast and man magnified to superhuman size.

Initially, Enkidu is restless in Uruk, and thus the quest. Gilgamesh initially is frightened, but Enkidu encourages him. Next, Humbaba offers Gilgamesh all the cedars and himself as a servant, but Enkidu (1) wants the fame and glory of killing him and (2) insists that if they do not kill him quickly before the gods arrive, the gods will intervene and prevent the death of Humbaba and destruction and looting of the sacred trees.

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